Steffi gave an interview to CEPR’s Tim Phillips about the team’s research:
Policies to avoid zombification of the economy
In an accompanying VoxEU column, the authors discuss the risks that government responses to COVID-19 could “zombify” the economy.
“A representative consumer survey in five EU countries indicates that many consumers do not miss certain goods and services they have cut down on since the COVID-19 outbreak,” the authors explain in their column. “Fiscal policy must recognise that some firms will become obsolete in the altered post-COVID-19 environment. To achieve a swift recovery, these obsolete firms must be allowed to fail fast so that resources can be reallocated to more efficient uses. Instead, fiscal support should be laser-like in targeting those households who are particularly hard hit by the crisis. Such support should be oriented towards helping displaced workers retrain and find new jobs.”
Prospective economic developments depend on the behavior of consumer spending. A key question is whether private expenditures recover once social distancing restrictions are lifted or whether the COVID-19 crisis has a sustained impact on consumer confidence, preferences, and, hence, spending. Changes in consumer behavior may not be temporary, as they may reflect long-term changes in attitudes arising from the COVID-19 experience. This paper uses data from a representative consumer survey in five European countries conducted in summer 2020, after the release of the first wave’s lockdown restrictions. We document the underlying reasons for households’ reduction in consumption in five key sectors: tourism, hospitality, services, retail, and public transports. We identify a large confidence shock in the Southern European countries and a permanent shift in consumer preferences in the Northern European countries. Our results suggest that horizontal fiscal support to all firms risks creating zombie firms and would hinder necessary structural changes to the economy.
Alexander Hodbod ’12 (International Trade, Finance, and Development). Counsellor to ECB Representative to the Supervisory Board, European Central Bank (DGSGO-SO), Frankfurt, Germany.
Cars Hommes. Professor of Economic Dynamics at CeNDEF, Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, and research fellow of the Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Senior Research Director (Financial Markets Department), Bank of Canada.
Stefanie J. Huber ’10 (Economics). Assistant Professor at CeNDEF, Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, and research candidate fellow of the Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Isabelle Salle. Principal Researcher at the Bank of Canada (Financial Markets Department), research fellow at the Amsterdam School of Economics, University of Amsterdam, and research fellow of the Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
In addition, the associated ECB working paper suggests that this type of regulation would allow for rental housing prices to increase less abruptly during the boom, an issue that policymakers in several countries of the euro area have attempted to handle via price regulation (an alternative that could generate price distortions).
Persistence of democratisation following transitory economic shocks plays an important role in the theory of political institutions. This column tests the theory of democratic tipping points using rainfall shocks in the world’s most agricultural countries since 1946. Negative rainfall shocks have a strong and transitory effect on agricultural output, but a persistent positive effect on the probability of democratisation even after ten years.
The recent history of democratic (non-)transitions in the world’s most agricultural countries indicates that transitory events can have enduring effects on democratic institutions. When lower rainfall led to below-average agricultural output in these countries, countries ruled by authoritarian regimes were more likely to democratise and more likely to be democratic ten years later.
The shape of the effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation indicates that the effect is through agricultural output. The agricultural economics literature finds an inverted-U-shaped effect of rainfall on agricultural output. In the theory of Acemoglu and Robinson (2001, 2006) we build on, transitorily lower output raises the probability of democratisation, and transitorily higher output lowers the probability of democratisation. Hence, the inverted-U-shaped effect of rainfall on agricultural output should translate into a U-shaped effect of rainfall on the probability of democratisation. We find this to be the case. Moreover, our results indicate that rainfall shocks tend to produce the largest change in the probability of democratisation when the estimated effect of rainfall on agricultural output is largest.
Figure. Effect of rainfall on real agricultural output and on the probability of democratisation
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